After incidents in Jordan, UAE and Egypt: Is violence against women on the rise?

Special Nayera Ashraf (L), a 21-year-old arts student, was stabbed to death in Egypt; Nursing student Iman Ersheid, 18, was shot to death in Jordan. (Reuters)
Nayera Ashraf (L), a 21-year-old arts student, was stabbed to death in Egypt; Nursing student Iman Ersheid, 18, was shot to death in Jordan. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 28 June 2022

After incidents in Jordan, UAE and Egypt: Is violence against women on the rise?

After incidents in Jordan, UAE and Egypt: Is violence against women on the rise?
  • Incidents in three different Arab countries in the space of a week show urgency of treating ‘femicide’ as a global issue 
  • Victims of gender-based violence rarely report crimes against them or seek help, and perpetrators are rarely punished

JEDDAH: Last week, Nayera Ashraf, a student at Mansoura University in Egypt, was beaten and stabbed in broad daylight as bystanders looked on in horror. She died later that day. The attacker was restrained and arrested. His motive for such a dreadful crime? The refusal of a marriage proposal.

Alexis Gabe, 24, went missing in January this year. It is thought that she was murdered by an ex-boyfriend in Antioch, California. In June, Vanessa Virgioni, 29, was murdered in her home in Brampton, Canada. In October 2018, 46-year-old Gayle Potter died after she was hit by a car in the driveway of her home in Traralgon, Victoria, Australia. Iman Ersheid, 18, was gunned down this month on a university campus in Amman, Jordan.

Such stories of attacks on women by former partners or men they have rejected are too common for comfort. A disappearance in Breitungen, Germany; a stabbing in Delhi, India; another in Sharjah in the UAE; a shooting in the US state of Oklahoma; a death by drowning in Townsville, Australia. In some cases, the victims are discovered immediately, in others it can take years. The remains of some are never found.

It is difficult to determine precisely how many women are attacked because they rejected the advances of a man. The UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, categorizes such killings as “femicide,” a term used to describe the murder of women, usually by men. A common denominator in many cases is that the woman was the object of unrequited affection from a partner, former partner, or a man whose advances were rebuked.

The Arab world was rocked by reports of three murders of women in this past week alone. Ashraf’s killer claimed that his victim “used me to achieve things and when she did, she dumped me.”

During a court hearing, he told prosecutors: “I also wanted to kill her, if I had the chance” because she had refused his romantic advances and rejected a marriage proposal.

Iman Ersheid’s killer committed suicide as police urged him to surrender. (Videograb)

In Jordan, authorities tracked down Ersheid’s killer to a town north of Zarqa. As they urged him to surrender, he fatally shot himself. The case in Sharjah involved a husband who stabbed his wife 16 times over a dispute. CCTV footage from a parking lot at the woman’s residence showed the killer attacking the woman in her car. He was later found on a beach and arrested.

But such cases are hardly unique to countries such as Egypt, Jordan or the UAE, or to the wider Middle East. Yet some media outlets, such as Monte Carlo Doualiya, formerly known as RMC Moyen-Orient, a French public radio service, have wrongly described them as a uniquely “Arab problem.”

Ibrahim Al-Zibin, a professor of sociology at Imam Mohammed ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, told Arab News that it is a global problem that is not specific to any single region or society. Studies have shown gender-based crimes, especially those against women, are more common in conservative and lower-income communities, he added.

“Violence against women disproportionately affects low and lower-middle-income countries and regions,” he said. “That’s not to say that violence doesn’t occur in other social classes but financially burdened individuals are most likely to be driven towards violence of any kind, and there’s an associated mental-health issue when it comes to committing a murder.”

In what UN Women describes as the “shadow pandemic,” studies have shown that rates of violence against women have increased in recent decades, and that there was a significant rise in cases of domestic violence following the start of COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

UN Women reports that an estimated 736 million women worldwide, which is 30 percent of all women age 15 or older, have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner, sexual violence by a non-partner, or both, at least once in their lives.

Many cases of gender-based violence go unreported, with less than 40 percent of women reporting such crimes or seeking help of any sort, UN Women said in 2021. Assaults and murders considered “crimes of passion,” or as a result of rejection, often make the news as a result of initial citizen reports on social media that attract the attention of authorities.

Social media offers unprecedented opportunities to raise awareness about violence against women and girls, which in many instances historically has gone unpunished. However, advances in technology have made online reporting more accessible to the average person.

Nayera Ashraf, a student at Mansoura University in Egypt, was beaten and stabbed in broad daylight. (Supplied)

Calculating exact figures for crimes of femicide can be challenging and so accurate counts or reliable estimates for the global prevalence of its various forms are difficult to come by. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that 47,000 women and girls worldwide were killed by an intimate partner or family member in 2020.

But attempts to understand the psyche and motives of the men who carry out such crimes raise a number of questions. Are those who kill women just “ordinary people” who suddenly and unexpectedly fly into murderous rages, or are the killings premeditated and planned?

“There is an underlying cause that drives one to premeditated murder; it’s not spontaneous,” said Al-Zibin. Each murder has unique characteristics, he added; in many instances, killers believe they have found the right circumstances to act but, in reality, a mental illness might be driving their actions.

“Violence does not always, or immediately, lead a woman to her death but the consequences of these acts are equally debilitating; the physical, psychological and social effects of violence vary and most murderers will find a way to use that to their advantage,” he added.

“Triggers vary in nature. In some cases they are non-existent but to a criminal, it’s real. The threat of violence manifests itself in various ways in women's lives. Retribution for rejection is a common enough threat.”

Social taboos and shame can lead women to tolerate and even accept as unavoidable aggression by a male, a situation Al-Zibin said can be a recipe for disaster, and so greater social awareness of the issue is needed to change attitudes.

Many cases of gender-based violence go unreported to police. (Supplied)

“Women, get used to the idea that they have to prepare themselves, that they have to respond ‘appropriately’ to men’s advances,” he said. “But in truth, women need to be more aware of a man’s aggressive behavior — no matter the relationship — and protect themselves through reporting it to a family member or law enforcement, which is the best option. It’s one way of fixing the problem.

“There’s no shame in a woman falling victim to an abusive partner, a drug user, a stalker or someone who holds a grudge against her. It’s not something to be ashamed of; the taboo needs to be ignored. There are laws to protect women but more needs to be done to fix this global issue, starting with local governments and authorities.”

Al-Zibin believes that if a woman attempts to deal with a man’s aggressive behavior on her own by defending herself, it can lead to an escalation in the harassment, which might ultimately lead to murder. Moreover, he said, protective measures need to be put in place to protect women from individuals who suffer from mental health issues.

No matter how strong or confident she might be, Al-Zibin said, the actions of a woman who tries to protect herself can be misinterpreted by the individual who is pursuing her and fuel their spite or hate.

“Involuntary manslaughter is rare in crimes (involving) rejection; they’re likely to be very detailed and, more often than not, the criminal succeeds.”

Israel’s relations with Arab world jeopardized by new government’s actions, experts say

Israel’s relations with Arab world jeopardized by new government’s actions, experts say
Updated 16 sec ago

Israel’s relations with Arab world jeopardized by new government’s actions, experts say

Israel’s relations with Arab world jeopardized by new government’s actions, experts say
  • Participants in a discussion hosted by the Middle East Institute said the first three months of the far-right government led by Benjamin Netanyahu have been ‘chaotic’ and its policies are ‘racist’
  • The ruling coalition has overseen the violent suppression of Palestinian protests, with nearly 100 Palestinians killed as Israeli and settler raids have been stepped up in the West Bank

CHICAGO: Israeli journalists, former diplomats and government ministers agreed on Thursday that escalating violence directed toward Palestinians under the rule of the new coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is undermining Israel’s relations with neighboring Arab countries, in particular those that have signed the Abraham Accords or might have considered doing so.

During a discussion hosted by the Middle East Institute, the panelists said the first three months of the far-right government have been “chaotic” and its policies are “racist” and “disconnected from reality.”

Since it came to power in December, the ruling coalition has overseen the violent suppression of Palestinian protests. Nearly 100 Palestinians have been killed as Israeli and settler raids targeting activists have been stepped up throughout the occupied West Bank.

One of the most violent incidents was an assault on the Palestinian village of Huwara on Feb. 27, which an Israeli panelist described as a “pogrom,” a word used to describe an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group. Armed settlers, who claimed to be avenging an attack on Israelis by Palestinians the day before, led a violent, late-night rampage through the village in the northern West Bank, killing one Palestinian and injuring more than 100. The Israeli military, which has responded rapidly to increased tensions related to Palestinian assaults, did nothing to intervene.

“The fact is that this government, in its first three months, is totally dysfunctional and chaotic, and almost any step it takes does not come out of initiative but out of reaction to events,” said Barak Ravid, a veteran Middle East and diplomatic correspondent for Israeli media outlets.

“This is also a government that … is the most far-right government in Israel’s history, with racist and Jewish-supremacist elements in it, in key positions that have a lot of influence over foreign relations and national security, like Itamir Ben Gvir, the minister of national security, or Mr. (Bezalel) Smotrich, the minister of finance.”

Ravid continued: “When Netanyahu came in, he said several things. Firstly, he said he is going have his hands on the wheel when it comes to national security and foreign policy. I think in the three months since this government was formed it is obvious to everybody that this is not the case. He is not running anything, everything is chaotic.

“And secondly, he put forward a pretty ambitious foreign policy agenda, first stressing he will focus on Iran and on countering its nuclear program. And second, he said he will try to broaden the Abraham Accords and get a peace treaty with Saudi Arabia. In the last three months, he has done nothing, not on the first foreign policy goal and not on the second foreign policy goal.”

Ravid said the unrelated issue of the government’s proposed reforms of Israel’s judicial system, which have sparked widespread protests across Israel and international concern, has contributed the problems because it has “hijacked the government’s agenda.”

The violence in the West Bank, the panelists agreed, has caused a spike in killings of Palestinians and Israelis, and put the brakes on any more potential normalization agreements, similar to the Abraham Accords deals with Morocco, Bahrain and the UAE, in particular dashing hopes that there might be one with Saudi Arabia.

Netanyahu’s coalition “knows very well that they are harming relations with the Arab World but they don’t care,” said Nachman Shai, Israel’s former minister of diaspora affairs.

“Don’t tell me they don’t know, when they let Minister Ben Gvir on the Temple Mount (Al-Aqsa Mosque) or other statements were made by coalition members and government ministers. They know very well that they are harming relations with the Arab world but they don’t care.”

Shai described the “Huwara pogrom” as a “terrible event, a tragedy that disrupted our relationship with the United States, with the Jewish community, and with the world. And especially with our relations with the Arab World.”

He said the new government’s policies have drawn anger from the administration of US President Joe Biden, who has been a strong advocate for Israeli security and democracy.

Elie Podeh, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said the biggest effect of the coalition’s actions has been to undermine any possibility of normalized relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which was “Netanyahu’s main target” for his foreign policy.

“Any tension, and certainly an intifada and anything significant that happens between Israel and the Palestinians, especially if Jerusalem is involved, is going to hamper and is going to hurt any developments between the Israelis and the Saudis,” Podeh said. “So, it is not on the horizon, at least the immediate horizon.”

Maya Sion Tzidkiyahu, director of Mitvim, the Israel-Europe Relations Program at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said the turmoil during the first 100 days of Netanyahu’s government has not only soured support for Israel among leaders of EU countries, but also the normalized relations with the UAE. She said the Netanyahu government has not recognized the damage it is causing to its efforts to improve relations with the Arab World.

The moderator of the discussion was Nimrod Goren, a senior fellow of Israeli Affairs at the Middle East Institute.

Turkiye’s parliament ratifies Finland’s membership in NATO

Turkiye’s parliament ratifies Finland’s membership in NATO
Updated 22 min 39 sec ago

Turkiye’s parliament ratifies Finland’s membership in NATO

Turkiye’s parliament ratifies Finland’s membership in NATO

ANKARA, Turkiye: Turkiye’s parliament on Thursday ratified Finland’s application to join NATO, lifting the last hurdle in the way of the Nordic country’s long-delayed accession into the Western military alliance.
All 276 lawmakers present voted in favor of Finland’s bid, days after Hungary’s parliament also endorsed Helsinki’s accession.
“This will make the whole NATO family stronger & safer,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter in welcoming Turkiye’s action.
Alarmed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago, Finland and Sweden abandoned their decades-long policy of nonalignment and applied to join the alliance.
Full unanimity is required to admit new members into the 30-member alliance, and Turkiye and Hungary were the last two NATO members to ratify Finland’s accession.
Sweden’s bid to join the alliance, meanwhile, has been left hanging, with both Turkiye and Hungary holding out on giving it the green light despite expressing support for NATO’s expansion.
Turkiye’s government accuses Sweden of being too lenient toward groups it deems to be terrorist organizations and security threats, including militant Kurdish groups and people associated with a 2016 coup attempt.
More recently, Turkiye was angered by a series of demonstrations in Sweden, including a protest by an anti-Islam activist who burned the Qur’an outside the Turkish Embassy.
Hungary’s government contends some Swedish politicians have made derisive statements about the condition of Hungary’s democracy and played an active role in ensuring that billions in European Union funds were frozen over alleged rule-of-law and democracy violations.
Turkish officials have said that unlike Sweden, Finland fulfilled its obligations under a memorandum signed last year under which the two countries pledged to address Turkiye’s security concerns.
“As a NATO member, we naturally had some expectations and requests regarding the security concerns of our country,” Akif Cagatay Kilic, a legislator from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governing party, told parliament before the vote. “I would like to underline the concrete steps and their implementation by Finland, which supported and shaped the decision we are taking here.”
Kilic added: “I’m aware that there is a large number of people watching us from Finland. ... We can say to them: ‘Welcome to NATO.’”
Some opposition parties were critical of the Turkish government’s position toward the two Nordic countries.
“Unfortunately, (Erdogan’s ruling party) turned the right to veto Finland and Sweden’s membership bids into a tool for blackmail and threat. We do not approve of it,” said Hisyar Ozsoy, a legislator from the pro-Kurdish party. “We find the bargaining process (to press for) the extradition of Kurdish dissident writers, politicians and journalists ... to be ugly, wrong and unlawful.”
Asked earlier this week about Sweden’s NATO membership, Erdogan told reporters: “There are certain things we expect of them. They must be fulfilled first.”
Sweden, which made constitutional changes to pass tougher anti-terrorism laws, has expressed hope that it will be able to join before NATO’s July summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
“Sweden faces more significant obstacles in its bid,” Hamish Kinnear, Middle East and North Africa analyst at the risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft, wrote in emailed comments.
“Turkiye is unlikely to approve its acceptance into the alliance before the election in May. The Qur’an burning incident sparked popular rage in Turkiye and President Tayyip Recep Erdogan won’t want to risk angering his conservative base ahead of the polls,” Kinnear said.
The accession of Finland, which has a 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) border with Russia, has geographic and political importance for NATO, said Mai’a Cross, professor of political science at Northeastern University.
“Finland is at a very important strategic location and having that kind of shift from neutrality to respond to Russia’s aggression is bolstering the demonstration of the political will of NATO,” she said.
Cross added that the delay gave Finland more of a chance to prepare.
“Finland is already sitting in the meetings with NATO. It’s already revamping its armed forces,” she said. “So when it steps into NATO formally, it can actually hit the ground running.”

Finland pledges $21.8m to UNRWA for 2023-2026

Finland pledges $21.8m to UNRWA for 2023-2026
Updated 31 March 2023

Finland pledges $21.8m to UNRWA for 2023-2026

Finland pledges $21.8m to UNRWA for 2023-2026
  • Contribution supports agency’s provision of critical services for Palestinian refugees

LONDON: Finland has signed a new agreement with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East worth €20 million ($21.8 million).

The multi-year agreement, which runs from 2023 to 2026, builds on existing cooperation between the parties and follows the previous arrangement, which ran from 2019 to 2022, during which an annual €5 million was contributed to the agency’s program budget.

Paivi Peltokoski, ambassador from the Representative Office of Finland in Ramallah, said: “Finland highly values the indispensable work of UNRWA with Palestine refugees, including in providing basic services, for example in education and healthcare.

“Finland is a long-standing and stable supporter of UNRWA. More than ever, UNRWA needs adequate funds, political support and sustainability to fulfill its core mandate.”

Karim Amer, director of partnerships at UNRWA, said: “On behalf of the agency, I would like to express my gratitude to the government of Finland for its commitment in supporting UNRWA with unearmarked and predictable funding disbursed early in the year.

“This trust is tremendously important for the agency and its stability, especially considering the difficult current financial situation.”

Finland’s contributions help UNRWA provide critical services to Palestinian refugees, such as running 140 healthcare facilities boasting more than 7 million patient visits, and 706 schools with over 500,000 students across its five fields of operation.

Economic, political reforms and preventing violence high on US envoy’s agenda in Mideast trip

Economic, political reforms and preventing violence high on US envoy’s agenda in Mideast trip
Updated 30 March 2023

Economic, political reforms and preventing violence high on US envoy’s agenda in Mideast trip

Economic, political reforms and preventing violence high on US envoy’s agenda in Mideast trip
  • Barbara Leaf, US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, visited Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia and Libya between March 15 and 25
  • The issues she discussed with officials included escalating tensions in the West Bank, economic reforms in Lebanon and Tunisia, and elections in Libya

WASHINGTON: Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, had productive meetings with the Arab leaders and officials during her recent trip to the Middle East, she said on Thursday.

She discussed with them a wide range of urgent political and economic issues, including economic reforms in Lebanon and Tunisia, elections in Libya, and heightened tensions in the occupied West Bank.

Leaf visited Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia and Libya between March 15 and 25. She said her trip “focused on the US’s enduring interests in the Middle East and North Africa” and was an opportunity to reinforce President Joe Biden’s priority of an affirmative framework of American engagement in the region. She added that she also engaged in troubleshooting on some issues.

“I reaffirmed US support for de-escalating conflicts, support for democratic principles and elections, human rights and key economic reform,” she said.

During her briefing, attended by Arab News, Leaf said she worked with officials from Jordan, Palestine and Israel on efforts to reduce the threat of violent conflict between Israelis and Palestinians during Ramadan, which this year coincides with upcoming Jewish feast of Passover and Christian celebration of Easter.

Representatives of the US, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority also held meetings earlier this month in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba and Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt to discuss security precautions and efforts to de-escalate tensions in the occupied West Bank, in light of Israeli army operations deep within cities in the territory. At least 80 Palestinians have been killed by army forces so far this year, and scores wounded or arrested. Several Israelis have also been killed.

The legislative elections in Israel in November resulted in the formation of a coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that is described as the most far right in the nation’s history. Some cabinet members have openly called for violence against Palestinians and more Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, which are considered illegal under international law.

Palestinian officials accuse such extremist members of the Israeli government of stoking rising tensions and supporting settler violence against the Palestinians in occupied territories.

Regarding the recent rapprochement by some Arab states with Syria, Leaf said officials told her that they believe the international isolation of the Syrian regime and its president, Bashar Assad, has not worked and so they want to try engagement instead. She said she advised them to make sure “to get something out it.”

As for the US position on Syria, she reiterated that Washington will not engage with the regime and will maintain its sanctions on it and key officials.

“The US approach to Syria is unchanged: We don’t intend to normalize relations with Syria,” she said. “The regime is a disaster for its own people and the region.”

Leaf said she met Libyan leaders and other key officials in Tripoli, and that the people of the country want democracy and unity.

“Libyans have made it clear that they want to vote and want a unified government,” she said.

During her meetings with Lebanese officials, she urged them to implement desperately needed economic reforms and “emphasized the urgency” of electing a new president. The office has remained empty since Michel Aoun’s term ended in October, as politicians have been unable to agree on a successor.

Meanwhile the country is engulfed in a devastating financial crisis and efforts to implement economic reforms needed to unlock billions of dollars of international assistance have stalled.

Leaf said the US remains committed to efforts to bring stability to Lebanon and its people, and highlighted the financial assistance recently provided to members of the Lebanese Armed Forces. She added that she urged Lebanese leaders to work with the International Monetary Fund as it is only “lifeline” that can help the country out of its economic crisis. 

During her visit to Tunisia, Leaf gave assurances that the US supports the people of the country and their right to democratic government. She said she also urged Tunisian leaders to continue with the process of economic reform.

Israel court acquits man 13 years after murder conviction

Israel court acquits man 13 years after murder conviction
Updated 30 March 2023

Israel court acquits man 13 years after murder conviction

Israel court acquits man 13 years after murder conviction

JERUSALEM: An Israeli court on Thursday acquitted a man convicted of murdering a schoolgirl in 2006, with her mother vowing to find the real killer in the case that gripped the country. The verdict reignited the mystery around the case that inspired conspiracy theories, books and movies, including a documentary that aired on Netflix.

“The Nazareth district court today acquitted ... defendant Roman Zdorov of the murder of Tair Rada,” the court said in a statement.

Rada, 13, was found with a slit throat and in a pool of blood in a bathroom stall of her high school in Katzrin, a town in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, in December 2006.

Zdorov, a Ukrainian resident of Israel, was arrested days after, and charged at the same Nazareth court based on evidence and a confession he later retracted. He was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to life in prison.

Expert opinion on the knife used saw the supreme court order a retrial, and in 2014 the Nazareth district court once again found him guilty, a ruling the supreme court upheld.

In 2021 a supreme court judge granted Zdorov the right to another retrial at the Nazareth district court, releasing him to house arrest for the duration of the process that ended Thursday with two of three judges ruling him innocent of Rada’s murder.